The Fates Drive Me To A Yardsale August 27, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Baseball, Books.
Tags: Brunelleschi, Florence, Ghiberti
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The only reason I saw the neon green sign pointing towards a local sale was because I took a right turn and not a left, since a car was heading towards me and I didn’t feel like stopping and waiting. I figured I’d take the equidistant alternate route to get to my first errand stop, Home Depot.
That’s right… Home Depot, on a Saturday. All part of being the manly man I am.
Anyway, I saw the sign and figured why-the-hell-not, and drove the extra block to where I saw a driveway lined with assorted chazerei.
And then the actions of the fates became more clear.
I looked through the sole box of books sitting in the driveway and found a couple of big illustrated kid books about boats & sailing I earmarked for my nephew. I noticed the ENTIRE box of books centered around boating, the sea, or Captain Horatio Hornblower.
I asked the price, and the guy told me he had more books they were planning to sell next week, and he let me take a look. Turns out it was all his father-in-law’s stuff and they were selling it all off.
More books on the sea and boating. A box of Louis L’Amour novels.
But then a box of hardcover anthologies of old comics – Li’l Abner, Dick Tracy, Superman, etc. I chatted with the guy and told him he ought to look some of them up to see if they worth more than a couple of bucks. Then I found what looked like one of the old Collier series of Hemingway from the late 30s or whatever, as well as some old book of Civil War Songs published in 1889.
Nope, did NOT buy them for 25 cents a pop & flip them for thousands on ebay, I told the guy he ought to look up what they’re actually worth, and THAT little bit of charm got me some major discounting on the sailing books and two books on Renaissance Architecture I’m looking forward to, Brunellschi’s Dome and The Feud That Sparked The Renaissance, about Brunelleschi’s rivalry with Ghiberti. I loved visiting Florence some years ago. Maybe these two volumes will take me back there for a while, for fifty cents a pop.
And then, as my conversation with the guy went from Florence to art to history to where I’m from, we somehow found ourselves in baseball, and I got the entire biography of the yardsaler, who turned out to be a former pro baseball player who got bottled up in the Orioles organization of the early ’70s since they were overloaded with pitchers already. He had the bad luck to land in the farm system of a team with FOUR twenty game winners on their starting staff. Oy!
He recounted some stories from his minor league days, his later coaching days and so forth, but what stuck with me turned out to be something I’d almost expect from any former pro athlete.
He could recite all of his stats from more than 40 years ago.
His walk to strikeout ratio, his innings pitched, the then-future major leaguers he defeated in Class A and Class AA games in 1972, what the score was each time, you name it. I’m sure he could have told me the pitch sequence to every batter he faced if I’d asked.
We talked a bit about how the game had changed, especially for pitchers. He told me how be blew out his rotator cuff and back before they figured out how to fix Tommy John and how it basically ended his baseball career. It was an entertaining chat with another guy who misses playing actual hardball a lot more than I do, which is saying something.
And then Home Depot beckoned. The new a/c unit at Castle Wagstaff takes a different filter size than its predecessor. It will provide respite from the triple digit temps outside while I read my books on Florence and drink wine, perhaps. Maybe then I won’t miss playing baseball as much.
Random Thoughts On My Sports Betting Bibliography August 26, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Football, Horse Racing.
Tags: Gambling, Sports Betting
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So one day while killing time between a dentist appointment and an eye doctor appointment, I wandered the nearby neighborhood and wound up in one of what’s probably one of the few used bookstores left in LA in the age of the internet. As much as finding specific old rare stuff online is easier, browsing through smelly old stacks of long-abandoned tomes always turns up stuff I’d NEVER heard of or would have even thought of. Web surfing doesn’t quite produce the same effect.
I rolled the reach-to-the-top-shelf store ladder over to explore the top shelf of old dusty sports books, and came across a pristine copy of Sports Betting by Jim Jasper, dated 1979. A quick skim of the thing fascinated me – not so much for the advice and system offered, but in that the 1979 world I’d stepped into involved a book suggesting I base my betting systems on the lines of BASIC he offered up for me to punch into my TRS-80 to determine whether or not Ron Guidry and the Yankees would defeat Scott Macgregor and the Orioles.
Turns out Jasper wrote two other books (at least) filled with suggested BASIC coded programs for tracking football & baseball bets throughout the year, as well as following horse tracks. I found them both at the LA Central library. I’m guessing they haven’t been loaned out in quite a while.
As out of date as they all were, Jasper’s basic theories and structures are fairly sound – he number crunches all the data he can to determine league averages in various categories, assigns some weighting in terms of home field and the like, and then bases his betting on how far above or below average particular matchups turn out to be, in both baseball and football.
In other words, a general method easily reproduced using whatever categories of comparative stats are readily available online.
Much of Jasper’s number crunching and data recording, especially when I got to the horse racing portions of the two BASIC books, reminded me of the olden days where handicappers would calculate their own speed figures and track biases. When I used to haunt the sports books in Vegas betting the tracks whenever I was there, I’d see the older guys with their notebooks filled with their own timesheets and speed figures. Old habits die hard, I guess. I have some older horse handicapping books that painstakingly go through how to do it, like Andrew Beyer’s Picking Winners or the more recent (1995) Dave Litfin’s Expert Handicapping, but since relative speed figures are now available in nearly any racing form, there’s not much point (at least to me) in doing my own calculations. And as far as comparing the value of speed figures on Brisnet sheets versus Equifax versys the Beyer speed numbers in the Daily Racing Form… well, if I’m comparing different speed numbers calculated the same way between horses in the same race, I don’t really see what difference it makes. I’m getting comparative ratios, aren’t I?
While I use websites like Statfox to see comparative football, baseball and basketball team stats, spread records and the like, I use Brisnet past performances for horse racing, because like Statfox, they’re available free online if you know where to look.
The best basic edjumacation in reading horse past performances I can recommend would be DRF’s Brad Free’s Handicapping 101, the first book I read on how to go through the racing form. It covered everything in plain language and served as a nice launch point for studying more complex material or systems offered up by others.
My own systems? Well, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my own book about betting methods, whether in Vegas where I can bet the team sports legally, or back home where I can bet the track in person or online. But I think I’d want to string some sort of Wagstaff story around it. This post served as a way to empty my mind of all the things I’d probably try to work in and get them down in print. Maybe I’ll post more in the future about particular strategeries that work, maybe I’ll try to weave them into some hybrid how-to book down the line.
In the meantime, I wonder if I could dig out my old copy of Microsoft Quickbasic on floppy disc and use it to create a totally foolproof horse picking program….hmmmm…..
A Quick Post For A Quick Recipe August 18, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: marinara, pasta, sauce, tomato
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The On Top Of Spaghetti cookbook from Providence’s Al Forno begins to pay off. I started with a slight variation on their simple “mother” sauce recipe, and it came out great.
So here’s what I did:
- Minced up 3 big garlic cloves, for about a tablespoon’s worth, and sauteéd it in a little more than 1/4 cup of olive oil until it began to turn golden, maybe two minutes over medium-low heat.
- Carefully (to avoid splashing) added 2/3 cup of chicken broth & 2/3 cup of red wine
- Brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer and let half the liquid boil off.
- Added 1 28 ounce can of crushed plum tomatoes
- Brought it back up to a boil, then let simmer for about five minues
- Salted to taste (about a half a teaspoon), added a tablespoon of dried basil
… and that’s it! The sauce finished in those five minutes, and then I added it to some seasoned ground turkey I browned up before finishing some penne with it. The rest of the basic sauce went into refrigerator & freezer portions. This makes about 5 servings, and took a total of maybe 10-15 minutes.
DON’T EVER HAVE SAUCE FROM A SUPERMARKET JAR AGAIN!
Household Helper August 13, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts.
Tags: cat, funny, siamese
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Just What I Needed! Another Italian Cookbook! August 11, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: Italian, pasta, Providence, Rhode Island
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How many more recipes could I have on hand? How many could I actually eat before my inevitable death due to pasta-induced obesity?
Check the current over/under in Vegas & put me down for ten bucks on “over.” Too much is NEVER enough.
So finding On Top Of Spaghetti… by Johanne Killeen and George Germon while rooting around a Burbank thrift store I took as a SIGN FROM THE ALMIGHTY. Killeen & Germon are the owners of Al Forno in my special-origins-issue of Providence, Rhode Island. Al Forno is probably the most famous of what I’d term the fancy/schmantzy upscale Italian that began appearing in the 1980s, existing alongside the old school red sauce places ubiquitous throughout the state. (If there’s a cookbook out there somewhere for Mike’s Kitchen, located inside a Cranston VFW post and my pick for best Italian in the state, I’d certainly love to hear about it. This is probably as close as I’ll get. One night long ago when I went to dinner there, we saw Germon eating there and chatting with Mike. In Germon’s earlier book, they published Mike’s polenta recipe, which is a good’n. Mike is 85, and he’s had his perch at that VFW since my college days. May he live forever!)
Anyway, I’ll glance at all sorts of cookbooks at thrift stores, yardsales, library sales, you name it… my usual rule is that if I can’t find more than one recipe I’d want to cook while browsing through the book, I put it back for the next glutton to come along. Suffice to say that a book of original pasta recipes would be enough to pique my interest. And whenever I come across one that has a Rhode Island connection, I figure it’s a cosmic message. It happened many years ago at a yardsale, when I came across a copy of We Called It Macaroni by Nancy Verde Barr. Barr grew up on Federal Hill and offers up a nice mix of family recipes and the cultural background of that old Italian neighborhood.
Authentic Rhode Island! THAT’S what I want on my dinner table! All that’s missing is Jimmy Two-Times to go get the papers get the papers.
The other books? I’d rather save focusing on them for different blog posts in the future. I’ll try to check back in with different ones after I cook some amazin’ recipe from them. I have several focusing on different regions of Italian cookery from north to south, some from eminently trustworthy Italian chefs like Lidia Bastianich or Marcella Hazan, some from other great Italian restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and other cities…..
Yeah, I make Italian food a lot.
Which is why I agree with the title of this article, and ignore its final paragraphs.
It WAS The Best Bean & Cheese Burrito I’ve Ever Had August 10, 2016Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: boyle heights, burrito, los angeles
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I had a day to ride the rails for free, thanks to a Metrolink promotion, so I organized some errands for downtown Los Angeles (most notably a visit to The Last Bookstore) and took note of whatever other stuff was worth visiting that laid close to train stations.
While temped to ride the spiffy new line to Santa Monica pier, I put that safari off for another day and decided instead to think about lunch. Something new. That meant passing on the best pastrami in the world at Langer‘s (right near a Red line train stop) and instead venturing to sample Al & Bea’s Mexican Food, within a a couple of blocks of a Gold line stop.
This place has been there for literally fifty years, serving up old school Mexican, specializing in burritos. Supposedly it has the best bean & cheese burrito in Los Angeles. My pick for best LA-area foodie Jonathan Gold certainly thinks so. Twenty first century Criswell-wannabe stat cruncher Nate Silver came to the same conclusion.
And so did LA Weekly.
I’ve been trying to remember an episode of St. Elsewhere, when Howie Mandel & Stephen Furst go out to Los Angeles, and ex-pat Angeleno Dr. Ehrilch (Ed Begly Jr) begs them to bring him back a burrito from some specific place…. I keep wondering if it was Al & Bea’s. I only remember the shot of Begley unwrapping the burrito outside the hospital on a cold Boston winter night, and smelling it in heavenly bliss.
So I hiked from Mariachi Station in Boyle Heights, admiring the wonderful hilltop view of the downtown LA skyline in back of me, and ordered the bean & cheese with red sauce the other day.
The first bite. Just ONE bite and my reaction was an immediate “Lives up to the hype!”
And then I basically inhaled the thing.
I tried to peg down the secret. The beans had a definite home made vibe to them. Looser and goopier than the pasty-style refried beans you get in some burritos or other dishes. Made the thing a sloppy mess to eat, but I wasn’t exactly in tie & tails. Not a lot of cheese in the thing, which kept the cheese flavor and melty texture from overwhelming the thing. And the red sauce? My guess it that the red sauce was practically pure hot pepper mash, but – and here was the MAGIC – while the hotness pervaded each bite, it did not overwhelm. The main flavor consisted of the mild flavor of the refried pintos, with the cheese and hot pepper moving in and out of. And let’s not forget the tortilla – slightly thinner than other flour tortilla burtitos I’ve had, but with enough of a chewy al dente type bite – not too gummy, not too chewy, but with enough substance to be a dry framework for the thing without being too dry or going soggy. An impressive piece of culinary engineering, to be sure.
Oh, and if I keep eating this stuff, by all means buy stock in Glaxo/Smith-Kline, makers of Gas-X.
Belmont Stakes Picks 2015 June 4, 2015Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
Tags: Belmont, Belmont Stakes Predictions, Handicapping, Triple Crown
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This year’s Belmont, I think, is the best chance we’ve had for a Triple Crown winner since before I’ll Have Another’s injury took him out of competing in the Belmont a couple of years back. 37 years is a long time, and while the two main Belmont elements that usually combine to scuttle Triple Crown hopes – the longer distance & the presence of runners who have not run in either or both of the first two legs of the crown – are present, American Pharaoh still appears as a clear favorite in this relatively small field.
Science also confirms how difficult, if not impossible, it is for horses to win the Triple Crown. And you can’t argue with SCIENCE!!!! (That is, unless you’ve been paying attention to the ever-changing dietary guidelines emanating from the morons who gave us the “food pyramid,” among other crap. But I digress!)
For what it’s worth (and you could scroll down to review my decent success in both the Derby & The Preakness, thank you very much), I don’t think any other contender beats Pharoah if and only if Pharoah runs his standard race and his standard pace. And if he did, he’d run this one practically from gate to wire. The one horse in the field I could see challenging him early and possibly dueling him right down the line is Madefromlucky, and that’s who I’d pick as the most likely upset if anything goes awry with Pharoah’s standard trip. At a morning line of 12-1, it might be a worthwhile bet, and definitely one to add to any exotic bet.
Assuming a few things go wrong with Pharoah and he’s out of the picture, another horse I could see sneaking in there (that is, is everything goes perfectly for him) is the other Todd Pletcher entry, Materiality. He’d have to run as well as he did in the Florida Derby, and with his jockey switched back from Kentucky’s Castellano to Velazquez, who knows? Velazquez has never lost a race with him. (Castellano will be riding Madefromlucky instead). Materiality has a morning line of 6-1, another one worth looking at for exotics.
If Frosted ran the race of his life, he might also have a shot, but I only see him with a good chance of finishing in the money somewhere other than first, and I’d definitely have him part of any trifecta or superfecta play. I think he’d have too much to make up after trying to keep up with an early pace that’s a little too fast for his liking.
So, that’s my 1-2-3-4 in order, fwiw. In the past, I’ve usually bet exactas and supers on this race, but the fields were bigger and the pools were more spread out. Not sure how I’ll approach this one on Saturday. The idea of an all G1 stakes level pick 4 intrigues me as well – correctly calling an upsetter to Pharoah within it would most likely mean a decent payoff.
Preakness Picks 2015 May 15, 2015Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
Tags: Handicapping, Preakness, predictions
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So, will the Preakness basically be a rerun of the Kentucky Derby?
I mostly think so – American Pharoah, the favorite despite getting the rail position, seems (again) to be the one to beat. Dortmund seemed to fade in the stretch in the Derby, while Firing Line could only duel & keep pace at second. The way Espinoza & American Pharoah outran those next-best two down the stretch would lead me to give him the nod here, although if ANYTHING went wrong, a bad trip due to the rail, a stumble…anything, really….. I think Firing Line would sneak in there.
As far as runners who didn’t run in the Derby, the only one I can see mustering a challenge or maybe pulling off an enormous upset would be Divining Rod, whose speed figures are somewhat competitive with the leading horses in the field. Not a bad play to think about, since he’s 12-1 on the morning line, but I’m thinking that people will be wondering (again) if American Pharoah will win the Triple Crown after winning this race. Maybe simply betting Diving Rod to show up in the money is the play here, although I don’t even know if I’ll be betting on this one.
And, as usual, I’m sure the answer will be “No” thanks to whatever entry in the Belmont there is who will not have run in this one or the Derby and will be better rested. Same story, different year, and I’ll prognosticate that race when we come to it.
Reckoning: I wasn’t going to bet this one, and when the rain came a’pourin’ down, I was even more determined not to, even if it meant re-handicapping the thing throwing out Firing Line, since he was the likeliest leader to be most negatively affected by having mud thrown in his face. Even with the weather, I turned out to get the winner, and my longshot pick ran 3rd. Not too shabby, but the potential payoffs still didn’t make it worthwhile to me. We’ll see what happens in the Belmont in three weeks.
Kentucky Derby Picks 2015 May 1, 2015Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
Tags: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby
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I’m not sure how I’ll actually spread my bets on the Derby this year, but I think I can narrow the always enormous field down to a handful of likely candidates for finishing in-the-money, if not winning it outright. While I’ve been using a slightly different handicapping protocol for the current season of Santa Anita with mixed (but better than historic) results, I’m making these picks based on my usual parameters for a high profile high stakes race like this one. I’m mostly looking at overall speed, potential to maintain (or increase) speed at this distance, a distance new to the majority of the field, and whatever I can gather about their current condition & training.
So here it is: Like the opening odds, I would favor the two Bob Baffert entries in this one – American Pharoah and Dortmund. They’ve both got lightning times for races leading up to this and have not faded in stretches. They’ve also won at this level, and by a lot, gate-to-wire in numerous instances. I’d give the edge to American Pharoah from a numbers standpoint, but these two are really close.
One horse I could see sneaking into an upset victory would be Firing Line. He’s lost to Dortmund twice by a head, but he just flew in his last race, and a repeat of that performance, I think, would give him the edge here. He’s 12-1 on the morning line and worth taking a shot at. My other long-shot wild card possibility (though lesser) would be Upstart, who has some great speed ratings (although erratic) and looks to be in great form. I also can’t resist picking a horse that’s also a gag in Duck Soup. And I also can’t resist including a long-shot possibility when he’s 15-1 morning line and seems to have a reasonable shot at it.
Bets? Still not sure. Probably some win bets on all of them and perhaps an exacta box of all four. I’m never comfy going into deeper exotics with a field of this size, and prefer to save my triple crown bankroll for the Belmont, which I always find the easiest of the three to handicap deep into the field. The only thing I can really guarantee is that I’ll be petting the cat while the race is on.
I’ve been toying with the idea of regularly posting Santa Anita picks on a separate blog page for anyone who might be interested in following my picks or betting along with Wagstaff. After all, I’ll need company in the poor house for Scrabble games and trivia contests , so join in! Though to be honest, I’m up a few hundred bucks since the start of the year overall. I do about the same or better than the professional handicappers in the newspaper and at the Daily Racing Form. Why can’t they hire ME instead? With ME, you get picks you can trust, PLUS bonus jokes!
Like this one: A little boy runs home from school and says “Mom! Mom! I got a part in the school play! Aren’t you proud of me?” And the mom says “Oh, that’s wonderful! The drama teacher must think the world of your talent! What part did you get?” The little boy answers “I play the role of the Jewish husband.” The mother gets angry and says “You go right back to that school and tell that god damn teacher you want a speaking part!”
You’ll be telling that joke tomorrow. And maybe you’ll win the Derby! See how valuable I am?
Reckoning Update: Well, I’m pretty valuable after all. Out of the 4 horses I gave you, I got the 1, 2 and 3 finishers. I bet the exacta and made a $60 profit, which will soon be blown at Brent’s Deli, the best deli in Los Angeles. Stay tuned, we’ll see how I do with The Preakness or if I start posting my Santa Anita plays.